Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Five Things I Love About Fallout 3

I bought two high profile, well-reviewed RPGs this month. One was Fable 2, the other Fallout 3. One I returned within a week, the other I'm having trouble tearing myself away from to write this article. Can you guess which is which? I bet you can... I love Fallout 3, and here are five good reasons why.

It's an Authentic Post-Apocalyptic Experience
Well, not that I know what a truly authentic experience would be, but this is how I imagine it. Throughout the eight or so hours I've been playing the game, I feel like I'm just barely surviving. There never seems to be enough ammo, so I end up taking a few shots at things and then pulling out my baseball bat to finish the job. Every weapon I find is in disrepair and I have to scavenge parts from other guns to repair them to the best of my ability, which isn't much to speak of. Indeed, scavenging is the name of the game here, which seems like a plausible reality for the post-apocalypse. You can find plans for DIY weapons that require you to hunt for real-world parts, like pilot lights you have to pull out of the stoves in abandoned homes and handbrakes from motorcycles. This isn't breaking open boxes to find items incongruent with the environment, this is a scavenger hunt that you can approach in a realistic manner. I'm always low on clean health supplies, and I have to resort to eating irradiated food and drinking from contaminated bathroom sinks (preferable to the toilets), which gives me radiation sickness. When these aren't handy, I have to resort to taking drugs, which I then become addicted to and when I run out of my pill of choice the withdrawals set in and I find I can't do things I could do before, like pick tough locks or hit the broad side of a barn with my gun. Suddenly rifling through some nice lady's cabinets for another fix doesn't seem wrong, it seems necessary.

It's Got Good Characters
This game is like Oblivion in a lot of ways, but one department in which it has made a huge leap is with the NPCs. There are tons more unique personalities--you don't keep running into basically the same guy over and over again like in Oblivion. The voice acting is all very solid, and the writing is varied enough for different characters that you really do want to have conversations with them and listen to all they have to say. Oh, speaking of voice acting did I mention Academy Award-nominated Liam Neeson plays your father? And geekanerd icon Malcolm McDowell voices the "President?" Yeah, Bethesda is taking this shit seriously.

Its Tough Choices Will Make Your Head Asplode
Pretty early in the game you meet a well-dressed stranger in a saloon that tries to enlist your help in blowing up the town. I turned down the offer, and then next time I ran into the sheriff I tipped him off to the plot. I tagged along while the sheriff went to confront the stranger, and when the guy unexpectedly pulled a gun and killed the sheriff, I pulled mine and killed him in turn. It was like a Quentin Tarantino movie. I went to the sheriff's house and talked with his now orphaned child about his father. As I was leaving the kid opened a bottle of whiskey and took a swig. With the sheriff out of the way, scumbag saloon owner Colin Moriarity is in charge of the town and everyone is miserable. Now that whole sequence was cool and all, but I'm so curious to play again and see how things could turn out differently based on my actions. I want to know what it's like to blow up the town. I want to murder the stranger before he gets to kill the sheriff, and see if I'm punished for my crime--I doubt the "But sheriff, he killed you in an alternate timeline" defense works in the game. I want to let him kill the sheriff but spare his life to see if he takes it upon himself to blow up the town now that the law is out of the way and his plot is exposed. Or will the townspeople descend upon him themselves to murder him? Will the sheriff's kid take that rifle off of the wall and avenge his father's death? Would the sheriff have played a part down the line in my ongoing story if he had lived? There are so many moments in the game where you are given real choices that affect your gameplay experience, and it's hard not to want to experience everything--which is why I know I'll be playing this one a few more times, because there's just no way you can experience the whole story with one character.

It's Got Great Environments
Another are where this game is a huge improvement over Oblivion is in the environment. It may not be as large as the aforementioned game, but where many of the dungeons and much of the countryside in Oblivion were uninspired to the point of feeling randomly generated, every hill you walk over in Fallout reveals a unique, lived in environment. An abandoned drive-in movie theater, abandoned gas stations, abandoned diners, abandoned supermarkets--there's always some interesting abandoned thing you'll want to go explore. I haven't even gone to downtown DC yet to explore the ruins of the US Capitol and the surrounding environs, but I have a hunch it's going to be more interesting than the row after row of dry identical streets in Oblivion's capital city.

It Restricts Your Character Stats
I know that sounds dumb, right? Restrictions are bad, right? Not so, says I. In much the same way your actions in the game are actual choices because they require the sacrifice of another experience, building your character stats requires actual choice because you simply can't have everything. This is not an RPG where you level up indefinitely and continually boost your stats and eventually become an unstoppable God. Your seven core attributes (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck) basically remain unchanged for the duration of the game, and you stop leveling up and boosting your secondary skills at level 20--by then you're fully developed. You've made a choice about what sort of character you are and what you're capable and incapable of, and you have to live with it. How wonderful! I'm constantly running into locks I can't pick and people I can't persuade because of how I've chosen to dole out my experience points. There are ways I have to do things that are very different from how a differently built character would go about them, and it's exciting to work within those limitations. UPDATE: Reading the response to this article at RPG Codex, it's apparent that eventually you do start feeling like an unstoppable God. Like I said earlier in the article, I've only been playing for about eight hours so I'm just not there yet. Oh, to remain Level 8 forever...


Lyric Hart said...

You have become overencumbered and cannot run.

badbanjo said...

I've gladly given hours of my life to exploring the game. My two friends and I each chose to play the story line as good, evil, or neutral - so we can discuss the different storylines. Out of our three playings, we never got the same situation in Megatown that you did...all were very varied. So, in short: Fallout 3 is a 10

Anonymous said...

If you're very, VERY quick, you can report Burke and save Simms from getting Burke's bullet in the back. The way I do it, I grab a shotgun, report Burke to Simms, follow Simms to the Saloon to help with the arrest. There's a conversation, after which Simms starts to lead Burke away. There's a very small window in which you can shoot Burke. He draws a pistol to shoot Simms. The second you see him reach for his weapon, kill Burke. No sooner, no later. I had to try a couple times.

Albo said...

Yeah, anon, I'd like to try that sometime. I'm on a strict no retry policy for this playthrough, living with the mistakes I've made. Gets me badmouthed on the radio sometimes, but a little regret only makes the experience that much deeper!

Anonymous said...

"Your seven core attributes (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck) basically remain unchanged for the duration of the game, and you stop leveling up and boosting your secondary skills at level 20--by then you're fully developed."

Oh, by the time you hit level 20 you will be fully developed allright - in the sense that you've got most skills at high levels, a few maxed and you probably found a few bobbleheads to increase your stats.

Quiet_Desperation said...

Fallout 3 is my new all time favorite game. I'm a sucker for a sandbox, what can I say? :-) I also loved Fable 2, so I guess we disagree there. And a little harsh on Oblivion, too. That *was* may favorite game before Fallout 3.

If you're running out of ammo, all I can say is VATS, VATS, VATS. It's an RPG, not an FPS. I only free shoot if the enemy has a couple bars left. VATS to do the main damage and free shots to finish off. And there is no shame in beating a temporary retreat to let AP build up. I'm level 7 and I have hundreds of rounds of all the small gun ammo in my home armory.

All VATS is doing is revealing the dice rolls and giving you more selectivity over them. I think it's brilliant. Sometimes I'll take out limbs just for the heck of it.

Also, build the Rock-It Launcher ASAP. You'll never use ammo on lower level enemies again. Decapatating mole rats with Nuka-Cola bottles is more fun than you can imagine.

I'm the opposite sort of player, though. I save before every big encounter and reload if unhappy with the result. My take is that virtual worlds should invite experimentation and trying different things, and life too short to play through the whole game five or six times.

Best moment so far: ran from a giant ant in a subway and went around a corner to lie in ambush. I could hear the ant suddenly stop and then he slowly peeked around the corner. :-) Nice and creepy moment, and nice enemy AI.

Kevvers said...

Yeah, this is an awesome game. My favourite bit was where I was walking along the overlook of a motorway, when I spotted 3 talon mercs down below trotting the other way. They hadn't seen me yet so I fired a rocket at em and missed -- but hit a car instead soon after there was a huge chain reaction of cars nuke exploding... Man there wasn't much left of those mercs when it was over :D

ukogmickey said...

Same as me to the guy who started the post, I did exactly what you did with Burke, I just couldnt blow up that town man, I know its a game but you actually would feel horrible a guilty, its a weird experience but one ive found to be the best game ive played ever, at first I was getting frustrated at dying too much, its funny coz I struggled exactly like you did, the first 10 levels are very hard, even playing on normal, You try to avoid every encounter just to cross the street, then you feel your character getting stronger and more powerfull, Then slowly and gradually more ammo and better guns start appearing, but all this come with a price, The enemies level up too, Supermutants become super mutant masters and behemoths, The bloomin Muirlurks and yung gai or whatever you call them are the worst, I try to avoid them even now at level 20, Although I must say im at the point now where im a litle scared to move on with the missions coz I have to return to vault 101 with only half the acheivements and I heard this game ends and you have to start afresh, Im very dissapointed too that I now cant open certain locks and stuff likle that coz im maxed out, They should of took it to level 30 or something, or slowed it down a little more, They say theres not as many quests as oblivion and oblivion seems endless even at this point, Ive racked up 90+ hrs on this game and ive only found 80 locations, I have the exporer perk so they all on map, Im in middle of now checking all locations to find more side quests, I visited the alien ship last night and that gun is soooo powerfull, 1 shot kills man, but ammo is very limited, and its good you can repair the alien blaster. Im also stuck on how to retrieve passord for the door into the experimental mirv, I heard it was something to do with the keller transcripts but only have 2 of them. This game deserves a solid 9/10. Good review to the guy who made this post, well done I share your experience man !!!

David said...

slight spoiler...

if you don't go into the "place" to purify or depurify the water.... you can just leave that quest and wander... i know the game will end as soon as you complete "Project purity"... so thats just a head up to anyone looking to do side quests... thankss

Anonymous said...

2nd time around, I played evil, oh man, Blowing up megaton is 'Beautiful' Very well rendered, its so pretty, even Mr.Burk Cried.